Ricky Kidd here. In 1997, I was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for double homicide -- a crime I didn’t commit. I had a rock-solid alibi for the day of the murders. Multiple people saw me that day and vouched on my behalf. I also knew who did it, and told this to the police. But I couldn’t afford a lawyer, and the public defender I was assigned didn’t have time or the resources to prove my innocence. I spent 22 years in prison trying to prove the things my public defender should have found in the first place. In August of this year, a judge ruled that I was innocent and released me.

And I’m Sean O’Brien, a law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a founding member of the Midwest Innocence Project (MIP). I was part of an MIP team that represented Ricky over the past 13 years and that eventually got him released this year. I’ve spent decades working to overturn wrongful convictions, especially for inmates on death row, and before that I was the chief public defender in Kansas City, Missouri, from 1985 through 1989.

Ricky’s story and how it illustrates the greater crisis in America’s public defender system is the subject of PBS NewsHour’s latest podcast, “Broken Justice.” It’s the story of how we built the public defender system and how we broke it. Subscribe, download and leave a comment wherever you get your podcasts: https://to.pbs.org/2WMUa8l

PROOF: https://twitter.com/NewsHour/status/1202274567617744896


Ricky: It was really nice spending time with you guys today answering your questions. As we leave, I hope you will listen to PBS NewsHour's "Broken Justice" (if you haven't already). I hope you continue to follow my journey "Life After 23" on Facebook. Look out for my speaking tour "I Am Resilience," as well as one of my plays, "Justice, Where Are You?," coming in 2020 (Tyler Perry, where are you?).

And, if you would like to help, you can go to my Go Fund Me page. Your support would be greatly appreciated.

Lastly, a special thanks to the entire PBS NewsHour team for great coverage and your dedication in telling this important story.

Sean: What Ricky said. Thank you for your incredible and thoughtful questions. Thank you for continuing to follow this important story.

Comments: 2503 • Responses: 33  • Date: 

redbuck175873 karma

What are other inmates attitudes towards you claiming your innocence while locked up?

NewsHour6456 karma

Ricky here: I think most inmates don't really care, but since they are mostly guilty, they probably assume everybody else is. As for me, most people knew my case from news media and gave me a favorable response and showed support; especially when I was being released.

Sean here: There are people who are bitter about being locked up, and there are others who see potential exonerations as opportunities to snitch to get a deal so they can get out. We did have that problem in Ricky's case, and every other case where the inmates see media that indicates a fellow prisoner is about to go free. It adds to the burden of the work.

Earthicus3366 karma

Were you at least financially compensated for the state's mistake? I know there is no price you can put on freedom, but you should get something.

Nitin20151848 karma

However, Kidd will get nothing for the time he spent in prison. That’s because his wrongful conviction took place in Missouri and people only get compensation if their conviction is overturned due to DNA. DNA is not why a judge freed Kidd.

NewsHour4526 karma

Ricky: When the state offers no compensation, we are essentially on our own. We have to find our own way and so for me it has been trying to promote my book Vivid Expressions available on Amazon. I'm now trying to speak for a fee to share my story and try to keep an income stream coming. Ultimately I hope to become a playwright and film maker.

Sean: The only way for a non-DNA exoneree to get compensated in Missouri is to find a bad actor who is not immune from law suit, hire a lawyer and sue. Success is rare. Most get nothing.

alphatweaker318 karma

You should start a Gofundme... I’m so sorry that happened to you.

NewsHour1319 karma

Sean: Ricky has a Go Fund Me page. It is here. You will see that people did donate when Ricky got out, but you have to put it in perspective. He came out of prison with nothing, and he had to start a household—put a deposit on an apartment, pay rent, buy furniture, get a car, insurance, and support himself. He still needs your help. I’ve helped him and other exonerees, and Ricky just joked that I need my own Go Fund Me! Thank you for your question. Exonerees need all the help they can get.

Vandechoz88 karma

haven't there been cases where legislatures have passed an act specifically to make a one-time payment to an exoneree in those states where there is no automatic payout?

NewsHour187 karma

Sean: It is a theoretical possibility, but it is rare. Most legislatures have the power to pass "special legislation" which benefits only one person or a narrow class of people, for example, the 9/11 survivors. The only one in Missouri that I am aware of is Melvin Lee Reynolds, who was exonerated in the early 1980's after serving six years of a life sentence for a wrongful murder conviction. He got $3,000.

dmn19842353 karma

Can you shed any light on how things as obvious as a rock solid alibi and knowledge of the crime didn’t matter through the trial process?

NewsHour3387 karma

Sean: One of the problems with an overworked public defender is that your case goes to the bottom of the pile, and it doesn’t get seriously worked up until a week or two before trial. So alibi witnesses get the same cross-examination by the prosecutor:

When were you first contacted about this case?

Two weeks ago.

So in March of 1997, you expect us to believe that you remember where you were and who you were with on February 6, 1997?

It’s the truth.

So where were you on February 5, 1996?

I don’t remember.

Where were you on February 6, 1996?

I don’t remember.

Ricky got desperate and started calling his own alibi witnesses from the jail. That cross-examination goes like this:

Who first contacted you about this alibi?


So the defendant asked you to say he was with you?


There is no good way to answer these questions. Possible video surveillance evidence was lost. Memories were not as trustworthy. Fresh investigation is essential for a credible alibi defense. With an overburdened public defender system, Missouri prosecutions are alibi-proof.

Thatdewd571207 karma

What do you think of all the changes that have occurred for the past 22 years I.e. technology, cars, fashion, architecture, etc. ?

Had a guy that did 16 years I became friends with after he got out and it was an adjustment for him for sure. Had to hell him reintegrate back into society. I’m just curious how others see it as well.

NewsHour2361 karma

Ricky: I love GPS! I love hotel keycards. I love self-checkout at the store. I love Apple products. I love Uber and Lyft. So I have no complaints. My comprehension is pretty strong so I haven't done bad in these areas. But for where I do fall short, my youngest daughter often comes to the rescue.

you-just-readit1179 karma

What was the first meal you ate when released ?

NewsHour3302 karma

Ricky: Steak! Filet mignon! Fries, onion rings and a cold one at Fiorello's Jack Stack Barbecue with 30 friends and family, and they comped the whole tab!

solojones1138621 karma

Glad you got some Jack Stack. How about some Joe's since that didn't even exist when you went in? Genuinely, want to ask... what are the foods and other things you appreciate now that you're out?

NewsHour1200 karma

Ricky: Fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, and a Starbucks coffee (vanilla bean frappe with a double-shot espresso, thanks to my daughter).

fmaucfnfl906 karma

Why is the appeal process so lengthy? I've seen quite a few cases that the person was clearly innocent but it still took like 10 years or more to get the person out of prison like in your situation. I'm so sorry you had to go through all of that. Do you think the appeal process will improve?

NewsHour1057 karma

Sean: I teach a three-credit hour advanced law school course in post-conviction remedies that still doesn't come close to answering this question. In a nutshell: procedural technicalities. You hear about criminals getting off on technicalities; that is rare. What is more common is that prisoners lose appeals because they have inadequate public defenders, the procedures are complex, and it takes money to hire the lawyers and acquire the resources to get justice. The appeals process has ten steps, but you only get an appointed lawyer on the first two steps, and if a mistake is made at any step in the way, it creates a hurdle that prevents you from moving forward to the next. The Supreme Court studied the problem in 1989, and the report said the main cause of delays in the justice system is lack of access to competent counsel.

justanotherrandomjoe779 karma

How did this experience affect your philosophy of life?

  • Did it affect you religiously? If so, how?
  • Did you find a way to make prison meaningful? If so, how?

NewsHour2100 karma

Ricky: My wrongful conviction did impact me religiously. I grew in my faith and had to become anchored in something or I would have blew away. God was and continue to be my anchor. As for did I find a way to make prison meaningful? Sure! I began living outside of myself, I focused on living vicariously through others. I created prison programs, I trained dogs, I wrote books and plays and movie scripts. I studied the issues of injustice and now I'm putting all that into play.

NewsHour512 karma

Hey Guys! Ricky and Sean here! Excited to be able to share our story and take your questions.

yelpisforsnitches393 karma

Would you say the moral of this story is pay for a lawyer even if you can’t afford it at the time? This is awful, I’m sorry this happened to you

NewsHour897 karma

Sean: Most Americans will tell you justice costs money. A solid defense on a case this serious would be well beyond the reach of most middle-class Americans. I keep track of my time and expenses in exoneration efforts, and if I were billing my client for my time my typical fee would be upwards of half a million dollars. A homicide defense will run you well into six figures. This is why public defender funding is so important. It’s like being diagnosed with cancer; your life will depend on the cure, but it doesn’t come cheap.

FravellyGord351 karma

Hey Ricky. Did knowing that you're imprisoned for something you didn't do help or hurt you in coping with the situation? Was it something to hold on to, or did it make things feel worse because of how unfair it is?

NewsHour695 karma

Ricky: Both! On one hand, it was agonizing to know that an innocent person is in a place built for the guilty. On the other hand, I was not guilty, and so I never behaved or acted as such. Nor did I ever give in, as I suspect most guilty people probably do after they're caught. I imagine they exhale, thinking in their mind, OK, I'm caught, I can rest now. But for me, it was, OK, I'm innocent, there's no time to rest now. I must live to see another day and hope for the day where I can live again (free).

carryab1gstick282 karma

Ricky, I’m so sorry this happened to you. What a horrible situation you’ve been put in, simply because you couldn’t afford proper representation.

Before going to prison, what did you want to be when you grew up??

What helped you through your time in prison, knowing your innocence?

How are you today? Resentful, determined, angry?

Finally, I wish you all the success in the world, I cannot imagine what you’ve been through and I am hopeful for the future when this work pays off and nobody ever has to live what you lived through, again.

NewsHour634 karma

Ricky: When I was little I wanted to be a chef. But as I got older, I just wanted to be loved. So, I sold drugs because money brought me things, and things brought me adoration and (fake) love. When I went to prison, I had to reexamine myself. I took a picture of when I was three and asked him, "what do you want to be? What do you want me to do for you?" The answer has shown in my growth and development as well as some of the work that I now do. As for what helped me while in prison? I would have to say knowing that I didn't want my legacy to live and die inside barbed wire and concrete and steel. Today, I am well. I'm free. I feel alive. And most certainly determined to spend the rest of my life making a difference in others. Thank you for your good wishes and thoughtful questions!

C137-Morty256 karma

What led to your arrest in the first place and how come your rock solid alibi wasn't all of the evidence required?

NewsHour310 karma

Ricky: The true answer to those questions can be found on the podcast above or here: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/podcasts/broken-justice. Many news stories have been told about my case but not as in-depth as PBS NewsHour's Broken Justice. This is not a promo (or maybe it is) but you really should check it out to find out the answer.

Goat_InThe_Stars233 karma

What were some things about prison life that surprised to? What was something that you never got used to?

NewsHour507 karma

Ricky: One of the things that surprised me about prison is the callous environment, where humanity is stripped away and everybody seems to give it permission. Often I felt like I was of a small circle who still had, rather held onto my humanity. One of the things I have fully embraced since I've been home is a world where humanity is OK again.

As for what I never got used to - and what I hope to one day forget - is the dehumanizing aspect of prison: the times when were strip-searched, forced to bend over, cough, and squat, and if they didn't like that you didn't bend over far enough or cough hard enough, they'd make you do it again.

NorCalAthlete142 karma

Anything ever happen to the guy you said you knew committed the crime? What’s the statute of limitations in Missouri?

NewsHour315 karma

Sean: Neighbors saw three people flee the murder scene. Ricky was tried together with Marcus Merrill, who was also convicted. Merrill confessed to a federal judge in open court that he committed the crime with two other men, a father and a son, and that Ricky was never involved. The father passed away a few years ago. The son is living in the Kansas City area. The prosecutor knows who he is, and we have offered the prosecutor our cooperation. There is no statute of limitations on murder in Missouri.

Throwawaykikk6142 karma

If you could change one thing about the justice system, what would it be?

NewsHour492 karma

Sean: Put prosecutor and public defender salaries and caseloads on parity so that funding and resources are equitable. Fairness requires a level playing field. That’s the top of my long list.

Ricky: I would allow innocence to trump any legal impediments or procedural technicalities that often prevent or delay exonerations.

sanbaeva122 karma

Have you forgiven those who put you behind bars? I imagine it wouldn’t be an easy thing to do given you lost 22 years of your life. All the best for your new life outside.

NewsHour453 karma

Ricky: I don't think they need to be forgiven. I think they need to be fired and disbarred. As for me being bitter, I am not. I've made a conscious decision to be better, certainly better than they ever were to me or to whoever else they wrongfully sent to prison.

NewsHour92 karma

Ricky: It was really nice spending time with you guys today answering your questions. As we leave, I hope you will listen to PBS NewsHour's "Broken Justice" (if you haven't already). I hope you continue to follow my journey "Life After 23" on Facebook. Look out for my speaking tour "I Am Resilience," as well as one of my plays, "Justice, Where Are You?," coming in 2020 (Tyler Perry, where are you?).

And, if you would like to help, you can go to my Go Fund Me page. Your support would be greatly appreciated.

Lastly, a special thanks to the entire PBS NewsHour team for great coverage and your dedication in telling this important story.

Sean: What Ricky said. Thank you for your incredible and thoughtful questions. Thank you for continuing to follow this important story.

FitzyII71 karma

Did ang other inmates claim their innocence to you? Did you believe them?

NewsHour199 karma

Sean: Ricky and I talked about this over breakfast this morning. Every exoneree I’ve ever represented walks out of prison looking over his shoulder at the friends he left behind. I have a list of names to put on my to-do list. I have two former clients, Joe Amrine and Reggie Griffin, who spent time together on death row and ran into each other on the streets. What are the odds? I find that many exonerees knew each other inside. They are probably more reliable at spotting other innocent people than our screening tools.

Aleyla66 karma

What is one thing about daily life in the prison system you feel should change?

NewsHour227 karma

Ricky: Mandatory rehabilitation! Programs exist in prison but they're not really forced upon you, then they let men go back into society and force their shortcomings on society. Even being innocent, I took full advantage of every program opportunity, being conscious of the fact that I didn't want to be a burden to my family or society, provided I was successful on appeal. I've learned that all people in prison are not bad people. They've just made bad choices, often from a place of lack of knowledge or growth.

DeoInvicto45 karma

Do you think the time you spent in prison made you a worse person?

NewsHour135 karma

Sean: I know Ricky's perspective -- he would be the first to tell you his life was headed in the wrong direction. I've watched him grow personally and spiritually over the fourteen years I have known him. This is not uncommon with innocent clients; they come to prison angry and frustrated, and often you see their conduct record full of write-ups for mouthing off to guards and other prisoners. Eventually they must let go of their anger just to survive, and they are some of the most calm and peaceful people I know. So after a year or two they have exemplary conduct records, and even the prison staff come to believe in their innocence. When Ricky was released, the warden of the prison came down to help us walk him out, and to thank me for my work on Ricky's behalf. However, prison is a dangerous place, and for most people, the experience is probably much different. I have another innocent client who was made insane by the conditions on death row. He struggles to get through every day. That's another story.

MakeMeUnDumb41 karma

Is there anything about spending the time in jail that you find positive? Do you have any special lessons or insights you could share that a person that’s never had your experience gain otherwise?

NewsHour146 karma

Ricky: Absolutely. When you slow down long enough, when any of us take a time out, there's something to be said about the discovery process. Life is no longer moving fast. It's slow. And time (despite being wrongfully convicted) becomes your friend. I've read over 1,000 books. I've written over a dozen complete writing projects. I became certified as a dog trainer. I have a homemade degree in business (from the prison library). And I developed a deeper appreciation for things people often fail to appreciate. I think that's a pretty positive takeaway.

As for the lessons people can learn, don't waste the day with self-doubt or second-guessing yourself. Tell somebody you love them before it's too late. Eat with a fork before it's taken away. Put your bare feet on grass or carpet. Take a bath. And remember to laugh...I am.

nthlmkmnrg36 karma

Is there a candidate for President that you feel would be best for promoting reasonable and fair criminal justice reform?

NewsHour121 karma

Sean: I think remedial legislation must be a bipartisan issue. However, as far as the courts go, there is a distinct difference between Democrat and Republican appointees. In House v. Bell, for example, the eleven-member Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals en banc decided Greg House’s innocence claim on a vote of 6-5. Five Democrats voted to grant House a new trial; six Republicans voted to allow him to be executed. This is not true of 100% of federal judges, but Republican appointees lean in favor of the government, and Democrat appointees lean in favor of the individual. This is especially true in criminal cases.

NewsHour71 karma

Ricky: I haven't seen them yet but if there is such a type it would be a candidate who is open to truth and courageous enough to embrace it, a candidate who doesn't believe in mass incarceration and a candidate who will listen to all the experts who have spoken about criminal justice reform and what's needed.

LadyMjolnir31 karma

Hi Ricky, I bought your book. In another comment you said you like to write movie scripts. What genre? What movies do you love to watch? How often do you get to enjoy movies in prison?

NewsHour54 karma

Ricky: First of all, thank you for buying the book. I'm actively working on a second one that tells the story about my case. As for the type of movie scripts I write, they are message-loaded. You'll always be able to tell one of my movies in the future by the feeling you have when you leave the theater. When I write plays, they typically are socially conscious plays that open the mind to injustice or inequality. I did not watch many movies while in prison, but I have had the opportunity since I've been home to watch Harriet and Queen & Slim.

DrownMeInCholula27 karma

I heard you speak at William Jewell College and thought your story was incredible. Did any of the officers, guards, judges etc. ever give you a genuine apology? Also, coming from a guy who has lived in Kansas City his whole life... what is your favorite KC BBQ?

NewsHour45 karma

Ricky: First of all, thank you for finding my story interesting and important. As for an apology from guards or any others, I did not receive one. However, as it relates to the judge, his order releasing me served as an apology good enough.

As for the BBQ, I'm still in a rediscovering process...

Dark_messengeR17 karma

For Mr. O'Brien, I would like to ask what can the people do to change the current justice system where true justice is replaced by convenience?

NewsHour93 karma

Sean: We are over-taxing the justice system; we need to decriminalize a lot behavior that would be better managed by the health care system. A majority of people in prison are mentally ill. Many are there for drug convictions or behavior in service of an addiction. So reducing the number of people brought into the system would be a strong start. Stop voting for tough-on-crime politicians, and start getting smart on crime. Also, go to the Innocence Project web site and look at specific reforms that you can urge your representatives to support.

Hurizen15 karma

Do you think you would have got the same sentence if you were "white" skinned?

NewsHour38 karma

Ricky: I don't think my case was directly race related. I do believe that failed public defender systems across the country has a race related component. Most people who need a public defender are either black or poor or both. I believe that the system already understands that demographic. Thus, they refuse to put proper funding on the table, which results in poor representation, which results in wrongful convictions as well as mass incarceration.

NewsHour36 karma

Sean: A majority of people exonerated by innocence projects are black and Hispanic, but that's not because it's easier to exonerate them. Two good resources for you: Michelle Alexander's book, The New Jim Crow, exposes the racial animus behind mass incarceration. The other is the Equal Justice Initiative, which is run by Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy. Of the people in America serving life without parole for crimes committed at the age of fourteen or younger, 100% are black children.

edit: fixes typo

Cotmweasel12 karma

What do you think could be changed to prevent this in the future? Also, what are both of your viewpoints on private prisons?

NewsHour59 karma

Sean: There are lots of reforms that must be undertaken. We need to reform police procedure on interviewing identification witnesses, children and suspects. We need to fix the public defender system. Ricky's case involved a very suggestive identification procedure that produced an unreliable, false identification. For a detailed analysis of problems and fixes, see the web site of the Cardozo Innocence Project in New York.

As for private prisons, they should be shut down. Some government functions should not be run for profit. Right this minute, very wealthy people are paying big money to lobby against your freedom.

Edit: added web site.